Nationwide, the $15 minimum hourly wage has been a point of debate in this year’s presidential race, with former Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders pushing for it, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton vowing to step up to it and GOP nominee Donald Trump saying alternately that he would and wouldn’t raise it.
But in West Palm Beach it has become a reality, or at least will in the city’s 2018 fiscal year, which could make it the first Florida city to hit that level.
After years of lean times for West Palm Beach workers, the city commission last week adopted a budget that boosts city workers’ minimum wage and adds parental leave and education benefits.
The federal minimum wage stands at $7.25 an hour, but cities and states are free to go above that. Florida’s is $8.05 and West Palm Beach’s lowest paid worker is a groundskeeper who made $11.98 until now. But as of Oct. 1, the West Palm Beach minimum rises to $13.25, then to $14.25 next year and then to $15 in fiscal year 2018-19.
“One of our values is that we respect our employees and recognize their achievements,” Mayor Jeri Muoio said Thursday. “So it’s important to us to make sure they know we’re here for them.”
According to Muoio, St. Petersburg is the only other Florida city planning to post a $15 minimum, but it’s not scheduled to do so until 2020.
Forty-six workers were below $13.25, but because the staff already was scheduled for an across-the-board raise of 3.25 percent, only 18 would have been left below that amount — 15 full-time workers and three part-timers, according to Jose Luis Rodriguez, human resources director. The minimum wage increase will cost the city $30,900 over the next year, he said.
The city can raise that minimum and improve other benefits because real estate values have been rising steeply — by 10 percent over the past year — giving the city an extra $7.9 million in its operating budget, which now stands at $171 million.
The commission this week also passed a six-week paid parental leave for any employee having or adopting a baby or fostering a child. Previously the employees could take federal family medical leave but that’s not paid.
So now, they can have six paid weeks off, followed by another six weeks of family medical leave. If they had sick or vacation time saved up, they could use that to be paid during the second six weeks, Rodriguez said.
The city also has re-instituted a higher education benefit, budgeting $100,000 for a program it suspended during the economic downturn, in 2009. On a first-come basis, employees can be reimbursed for up to 12 credit hours for courses leading to an associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s degree.
It’s hard to estimate the cost of that program, so the city is setting aside the same amount it used in 2009, he said. “Once we establish a trend line this year, that funding level might have to go up to include more employees who want to participate.”
Have a West Palm Beach news tip? Contact Staff Writer Tony Doris at firstname.lastname@example.org or 561-820-4703.